Saturday, November 19, 2016

Is this the Monreale life? Is this just fantasy?

You know who loves massive, gaudy, ostentatious displays of gold? In honour (choke) of the stumpy-digited madman, here's another of Sicily's bling-tastic sites. Except this one manages to be tasteful, a word Trump wouldn't know if he tripped over it.

Monreale Cathedral, the second of the great Arab-Norman sites I visited in Sicily, is located in a suburb of Palermo about 20 minutes away from the centre. Getting there took a bit of research online and some wandering around the Piazza Indipendenza (outside the Norman Palace), but was otherwise straightforward. The larger scale (102x40 metres) makes it harder to see and to photograph the mosaics than in the Palatine Chapel, which is my overall favourite, but the incredible number and quality of mosaics is still unforgettable.

The history of the church in Monreale goes back to the Arab invasion of Sicily in the 9th century. The Arabs converted the Palermo Cathedral into a mosque and exiled the Bishop, who settled nearby on the hill of Monreale, overlooking Palermo, where a small church was built. The Normans conquered Palermo in 1072 and re-consecrated the cathedral. However, the story of the exile to Monreale was not forgotten, and in 1174 King William II ordered a new cathedral to be built in Monreale. Amazingly, the cathedral was consecrated in 1182. I don't know how the Normans managed to move so fast on these things, considering all the cathedrals you hear of taking hundreds of years to complete.

The interior consists of elegant columns, an elaborate wood and mosaic roof, patterned marble floors and walls, and most importantly, more than 6500 square metres of glass mosaics which mostly depict Biblical scenes and figures.

The relatively plain cathedral façade

One of the side entrance towers

Christ Pantocrator

The back wall 

I suppose this is Lazarus? Quite the belly, anyway

Ornate Baroque chapel. This is in a roped-off section you have to pay to get in to

Chapel ceiling

The inlaid marble floor

William II, founder of the cathedral, offers the building to the Virgin Mary

Noah's Ark
Top: Adam and Eve being driven out of the Garden of Eden. Bottom: Rebekah giving water to the camels

St. Peter


  1. So that's what they mean by "St Peter's got his nuts in a knot"!!

    1. Haha I hadn't noticed his elaborate robe arrangements

  2. I thought that all good catholics know that a cathedral can be built in no time at all by 3 ancient monks, 2 dwarves, a small herbivore and a pet slug. Plus of course the magic ingredients, a prayer and a swarm of angels.


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